Random Input

Creativity Technique

From “Teach your child to think” - Edward de Bono:

The ‘random-word’ method is a powerful lateral-thinking technique that is very easy to use. It is by far the simplest of all creative techniques and is widely used by people who need to create new ideas (for example, for new products).

Chance events allow us to enter the existing patterns of our thinking at a different point. The associations of a word applied to the new “out of context” situation generates new connections in our mind, often producing an instant ‘Eureka’ effect, insight or intuition.

It is said that Newton got the idea of gravity when he was hit on the head with an apple while sitting under an apple tree. It is not necessary to sit under trees and wait for an apple to fall - we can get up and shake the tree. We can produce our own chance events.

Random inputs can be words or images. Some techniques for getting random words (and the words should be nouns) are:

It is important to use the first word you find.

Once you have chosen the word, list its attributions or associations with the word. Then apply each of the items on your list and see how it applies to the problem at hand.

How does it work? Because the brain is a self-organising system, and very good at making conections. Almost any random word will stimulate ideas on the subject. Follow the associations and functions of the stimulus word, as well as using aspects of the word as a metaphor.

You may want to mind-map the random word.


1. You are tired of getting unsolicited email and you are searching for a solution. Your random word is BANANA.

2. You need to tell a story to your children at bedtime. Your random word is EGG.

Roger von Oech writes in “A Kick in the Seat of the Pants”:

A good way to turn your mental attic of experiences into a treasure room is to use “trigger concepts” - words that wll spark a fresh association of ideas in your mind. Like pebbles dropping in a pond, they stimulate other associations, some of which may help you find something new.

He writes in “A Whack on the Side of the Head” about various cultures having oracles. The ancient Greeks used the ambigious predictions of the Delphic Oracle, the Chinese used the I Ching, the Egyptians consulted the Tarot, the Scandinavian people used Runes and the North American Indians used Medicine Wheels. The purpose of these oracles was not so much to foretell the future but to help the user delve deeper into their own minds.

You can create your own oracle by doing three things:

  1. Ask a question. This focuses your thinking. Perhaps you should write your question to focus attention.
  2. Generate a random piece of information. Random selection is important, as the unpredictability of this new input will force you to look at the problem in a new way.
  3. Interpret the resulting random piece of information as the answer to your question.

The important thing is to have an open, receptive mind.



Here is a method I (Charles Cave) have been developing recently:

I make my own random picture cards by cutting out pictures from the various pieces of advertising material and magazines that appear in my letter box. A card can be picked at random and used as the random word. Choose pictures without text to allow a more right-brain approach. My cards include pictures of felt pens, furniture, kitchen items, art works, people, buildings, scenes and abstract designs. The cards can be shuffled and a card chosen at random.

Last updated: 3rd June 1997

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